European Affairs

Die 22 Vollkantone, Nationale Einigkeit, 1900-1935. Nationales Landesmuseum Zürich. Photo/Foto: TES.

The True European Union

The Middle Ages in the period 500-1000 were also years of major changes in Switzerland and certainly not ‘dark’.  Switzerland as a country did not yet exist, neither did the name, nor  the political concept. Only the current language regions developed during this period, especially during the ninth and tenth centuries. The French, Italian and German language regions of present-day Switzerland were already  stable around 1 000. Only what is called Romansh nowadays was replaced by German in many places in Graubünden in the course of the nineteenth century. The area of  Switzerland had a population of around 200,000 in the year 500, with an estimated 500,000 inhabitants in 1000.

The significance of the Jura, the Three Lakes Region, the Alps, Mittelland, the rivers and the mountain passes was already eminent in this period. Celtic tribes already populated this region centuries before Christ and they were in close contact with the surrounding regions. Even then, trade extended to the Mediterranean region.   With the arrival of the Romans in the first century BC the systematic construction of roads and transport over mountain passes, rivers and lakes began. The area became an important trade and traffic junction. The opening of the Gotthard base tunnel in 2016 fits into this ancient pattern.

The Catholic Church, abbeys, bishops and dioceses (Geneva, Lausanne, Sion, Chur, Basel (and Constance in Germany) would play a prominent political (and military) role in the centuries following the departure of the Romans in the fifth century. The Merovingians, Carolingians, Burgundian kings and German kings were their secular opponents or supporters. Only after 1 000 mighty  dynasties, including those of Kyburg, Habsburg, Zähringen and Swabia and numerous local rulers, would come to the fore. The towns and rural centres of power in the so-called Urschweiz were not to gain importance until the twelfth century. In the centuries after 1000, the rise of cities and their powerful bourgeoisie and the emancipation of rural communities and their first alliances shaped the future of Switzerland.

The area of present-day Switzerland has always been an integral part of European cultural, political, religious, social and economic development and has been no exception. However, in a long process from the thirteenth century onwards, the country has developed a unique decentralised and democratic structure in a long struggle for power between urban and rural elites and the citizens, after the Habsburgs ceased to have any real influence in the course of the fifteenth century. However, it was only the French occupation in the years 1798-1813 that set in motion reforms that could no longer be reversed and ultimately led to the current federation of 26 cantons, four languages, direct democracy, prosperity, various religions and a relatively large capacity to accomodate and integrate newcomers.  The changes in Switzerland may not always be rapid at the federal level, but the country’s strength lies on a decentralized and local level, (industrial) innovation, exports, excellent education and above all the involvement and direct influence of its citizens. It is a grass root country and not a bottom down society.